If you were tasked with predicting what Black Lips’ latest album, Sing in a World That’s Falling Apart, would sound like you would likely not guess “like a late-night bash at a Country-Western bar,” but yet that is what we get. Even more surprisingly, this sound works. The band, now over ten years old, might be showing some of its slowly-dawning maturity in this record. Still, they balance any moments of introspection with a relentless, and catchy, energy that lifts the album upward and onward.
The album begins as you would expect, with “Hooker John,” a traditionally Black Lips-ian rock song with difficult and sometimes grotesque lyrics alongside a belch or two, which hints at the album to come with its sheen of country stank. Even with this track, perhaps the most alienating of the set, lines like “everybody’s wrong about what turns me on” manage to pack in both efficient and humorous storytelling in just a few words.
“Chainsaw” is the first surprise of the album, as it sounds like something you could have genuinely heard on country radio somewhere between the Seventies and Nineties when it was halfway decent. The slightly melancholic tone of the lyrics about a lost connection is buoyed by a vocal performance that indicates a kind of resigned disappointment.
Early track “Rumbler” is one of a few songs of Sing in a World that tells a story of a colorful outlaw or character; “Rumbler” comes complete with a delightful background musical riff and a bittersweet harmonica. “Gentleman” is perhaps a vision of the Black Lips as elders. The story is sung from the voice of a man whose middle finger “has grown fat and tired from flicking the bird” and whose mouth “has grown cankerous from spitting dirty words.” His woman won’t introduce him to her parents because he’s “too weird,” and he laments that “I’m tired of being rude, ticked-off, drunk and crude.” That refrain might as well be the Black Lips finally admitting that they’re growing up. The song is the most endearing of the album, with a shout-along chorus and a colorful illustration of a strange and crusty man.
The country spirit may be most present in “Georgia,” which is the band’s ode to their home state. With a slightly more old-fashioned vocal performance alongside a marching-beat like that found in “Walk the Line,” Black Lips craft a respectable if under-baked ballad for their Southern hearts.
Sing in a World That’s Falling Apart ends with a couple more songs that edge the band back into their modern rock sound before a rather abrupt ending. The ending doesn’t detract from the rest of the album, which for the most part, is a buoyant bounce between the kind of scuzz rock that goes best with a layer of dirt and sweat and the pseudo-ballads that pair with a large pint of sudsy beer. What the album may lack in lyrical substance, it makes up for in personality and enthusiasm.